[lg policy] Iowa: Storm Lake District inks historic document on language learning policies

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 30 19:35:32 UTC 2009

SL District inks historic document on language learning policies

 June 29, 2009

 Storm Lake High School senior honor student Lori Phanachone drew
local, state and national attention when the Lao-American teen refused
earlier this year to take a mandatory English proficiency test that
she considered to be "insulting and degrading."
Protesting and heated debate over punishment of the student ensued,
but the stress of that period was well worth it, Phanachone said, as
her former district has taken a leading role to revise an English
Language Learner Plan.

"I'm glad my taking a stand has led Storm Lake to improve it's ELL
classification policy," she said this week as a small ceremony was
held to mark the signing of a memorandum noting the policy changes.
"Now other students who would be misclassified under the old policy
would have a chance to be reclassified as English proficient." She
hopes "no student is ever misclassified again."
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York, which
represented the student in negotiations with the district, issues a
commendation to the Storm Lake Schools this week for their new action.

"Storm Lake School District has created a comprehensive new ELL
classification policy...which sets forth clear steps for
identification and classification of ELL students," said Brian Redondo
of the AALDEF Education Educational Equity and Youth Rights Project.
He said the policy will be retroactive, and will immediately affect
some 1,000 district ELL students.
The signing Friday was called "historic" and it is anticipated that
other districts may follow Storm Lake's lead.

The test in question is the English Language Development Assessment
(ELDA) test. Federal and state policies require the local district to
test students who speak another native language, to determine if they
may need extra services in English learning.
Phanachone moved into the district earlier in her high school career,
and had taken and passed the proficiency test once. Students who
indicate that they speak a native language other than English have
been required to pass the test in two separate years, and have then
been considered exempt. Phanachone, a near 4.0 grade-point student and
member of National Honor Society taking advanced college-level
courses, should never have been so classified by the system, the
AALDEF claimed, but did not pursue legal action against the district.
After refusing the test Phanachone was asked to leave the school. When
she returned the next week, she was required to attend in-school
suspension isolated from her classes. Her behavior was initially
considered as a violation of conduct code, and it was feared that she
would lose National Honor Society status and be banned from activities
like track and prom. Some of her classmates staged a protest in front
of the school.
Phanachone graduated, but the AALDEF pursued the matter, claiming the
district never properly assessed the student's English ability, and
hoping to see the school change its policy so such an incident would
not be repeated. The district agreed to reclassify Phanachone, clear
her record and restore National Honor Society status. Much of the
requirements for testing are handed down from the state and federal
level, however.
Cooperating with the Iowa Commission on the Status of Asian and
Pacific Islanders (CAPI) and the United States Department of Justice
(USDOJ), the district was able to conduct a more thorough review of
the newly revised ELL plan. On hand for the signing of the memorandum
were Thomas Meade for the Dept. of Justice and Cyndi Chen, Division
Administrator for CAPI as well as school personnel, community members
and recent grad Phanachone.
"Notably, the SLCSD plans to conduct meetings for parents of ELL
students in their home language," said Superintendent Dr. Paul
Tedesco. "The Storm Lake District is very proud of our educational
efforts and we look forward to better communication with students and
parents regarding our ELL programming."
Additional efforts in the district's ELL program will be made for the
2009-2010 school year - efforts that the Asian Legal Defense program
termed "heartening."
In November of 2008, Teresa Coenen, High School Principal and Lori
Porsch, Curriculum/Special Education Director proposed a change in the
duties of the ELL instructors at the Storm Lake High School. A staff
member was to be appointed High School ELL coordinator to oversee the
proper identification, program placement and assessment of ELL
The ELL program has been successful for the distict, as evidenced by
the increase in the number of ELL students found to be proficient in
English over the past four years through standardized testing.
Dr. Tedesco said that for 2004-2005 in grade four reading Iowa Test of
Basic Skills scores, 54% of the ELL students were proficient. By
2007-2008, grades three-five tested at 62% proficient. In 2005 in
grade eight reading, 35% of the ELL students were proficient as
compared to 2007-2008 when grades six-eight were 60%. Finally for
2004-2005 in grade 11 reading ITED scores, 49% of the ELL students
were proficient, and by 2007-2008, 66% were testing proficient.
Nearly 200 students exited from the district's ELL program in
2008-2009 after achieving proficiency in required testing, and over
100 more students will be exited for 2009-2010.
Chen said the changes were very positive. "We hope other schools will
change - Storm Lake is a good model."
She also commended Phanachone whom she describes as "courageous and a
good leader."
"She stood up and spoke up. The discussion for this case has been at a
national level; the rest of the states are watching...She has given us
the opportunity to make this community and the state better; we can
serve the people better because of what she went through."
The ultimate goal, district representatives said, is to constantly
insure that all students, including those who do not speak English as
their native language, are given the best educational opportunties
Under the agreement, the SLCSD agrees to notify parents of students'
placement into and status within the ELL program, involving family as
the district hopes to hurdle linguistic barriers.
In addition, the District will develop new ELL community relationships:
* improving community outreach efforts
* developing effective channels of communication with non-English
speaking parents
* identifying new families and spokespeople in the community
* providing interpretation services where available.
Phanachone shared this statement for the community and those
supporting her. "Thank you for all your support. It makes me happy
that we have a new policy. All that we went through wasn't for

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